US researchers who analysed over a decade’s worth of statistics on non-melanoma skin cancers in the US (the country’s most common form of cancer) found they have been rising steadily every year, and concluded that their findings reveal the “most complete evaluation to date of the underrecognized epidemic of skin cancer in the United States”.

A paper on the study, which was conducted by lead author Dr Howard W. Rogers, a dermatologist from Norwich, Connecticut, and colleagues, appears online in the March issue of the journal Archives of Dermatology.

The researchers set out to estimate the incidence of non-melanoma skin cancer (NMSC) and trends in skin cancer treatment in the US and found that overall there were 3.5 million NMSCs and about 2.1 million Americans treated for the disease in 2006.

They also estimated that from 1992 to 2006, the incidence of NMSC among people receiving Medicare (the government insurance scheme for seniors) went up by an average of 4.2 per cent per year.

To calculate the totals of skin cancer procedures performed for Medicare beneficiaries in 1992 and from 1996 to 2006 and related figures, the researchers referenced US Census Bureau data and designed a cross-sectional survey that used several US government population records databases from agencies like the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Fee-for-Service Physicians Claims.

They also estimated NMSC-related visits from the National Ambulatory Medical Care Service database, and combined the two sets of figures to estimate totals for new skin cancer diagnoses and people affected by the disease the whole of the US.

Their estimates suggested that:

  • The total number of procedures for skin cancer in the Medicare fee-for-service population increased by 76.9 per cent between 1992 (1,158,298 procedures) and 2006 (2,048,517 procedures).
  • After adjusting for age, the rate of procedures per year per 100,000 beneficiaries went up from 3,514 in 1992 to 6,075 in 2006.
  • From 2002 to 2006 the number of procedures for NMSC in the Medicare population went up by 16.0 per cent (the databases didn’t link procedures to patient demographics and diagnoses before 2002).
  • Over this period, the number of procedures per patient affected went up by 1.5 per cent.
  • The number of individuals with at least 1 procedure also went up over this period, by 14.3 per cent.
  • The total number of NMSCs in the US in 2006 was 3,507,693 and the total number of Americans treated for NMSC in 2006 was 2,152,500.

The researchers concluded that the dramatic increase in the number of skin cancers in the Medicare population between 1992 and 2006 is mainly due to an increase in the number of affected individuals.

They suggested their use of nationally representative databases reveals a much higher overall figure for the total number of skin cancer diagnoses and patients in the US population than previous estimates.

“Incidence Estimate of Nonmelanoma Skin Cancer in the United States, 2006.”
Howard W. Rogers; Martin A. Weinstock; Ashlynne R. Harris; Michael R. Hinckley; Steven R. Feldman; Alan B. Fleischer; Brett M. Coldiron.
Arch Dermatol. Vol. 146 No. 3, pp 283-287, published online March 2010.

Written by: Catharine Paddock, PhD